Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
PROPERTY FROM THE PETER LANGAN COLLECTION
PETER LANGAN: RESTAURATEUR, COLLECTOR OF PAINTINGS, FRIEND
'It is in a mood of considerable melancholy that I write of Peter Langan and his pictures on the point of their dispersal, for I had much to do with his forming what was less a collection (a term that suggests aesthetic discipline, intellectual restraint and, perhaps, a gloss of scholarship), than a pragmatic accumulation of canvases bought for the square footage that they were to cover, paintings that he likes, and those acquired willy-nilly from their painters in exchange for food. As almost a quarter of a century has passed since his death in December 1988, it is perhaps necessary to recall that he was then the most notorious of London's restaurateurs, for few under fifty will remember the man. Given in his early days to wandering between his tables in a bloody apron, occasionally with a meat cleaver in one hand, always with a brandy glass of Löwenbrau in the other, 'How was the food, what did you order?' he might ask, and once I heard a diner reply 'Oh some kind of shit - shit with gravy, I think.' Later he became very much the owner, the portly man in the increasingly crumpled white suit holding court at the always reserved table by the door, at which brash celebrities were pleased to sit and be insulted, and from which gentler souls would flee when conversation became speculatively lubricious - as it always did, for sex was always on Peter's mind.
A year after his death, in an article on resaurants in the Eighties, a writer in Tatler described him as "perpetually inebriated, occasionally droll, usually boorish - a charismatic bully whose genuflectory activities gave new meaning to le patronmange ici." He was indeed drunk far too often and for far too long, and died consumed in a tosspot's Götterdämmerung. Shrewd and waspish, he could be very witty, but the descent of barrack-room vulgarity was inevitable and swift. His bullying, distasteful and sadistic, from which his victims - commonly friends and waiters - could not easily escape, embarrassed all in earshot, as did his maniacal speculation on the possibilities of cunnilingus and fellatio with this woman or that at other tables, his gloating anticipation almost as fulfilling as the act. All this, however, is to ignore the warm and generous Peter, the intellectual and spiritual man; these adjectives are rare in reminiscences of Peter, but he was never beyond the wit of the moment, mean or spiteful to his friends, and his response to pictures was always aesthetic, never mercenary - "The real collector," he wrote in 1987, "loathes the kind of arsehole who gloats over what good investment he has made."
We met in 1966, when he was only 23 but, heavily built and already soaked in alcohol, looked every year of the 47 that he was to live, looking always much the same, ageing further not at all. He had just become a partner in the first Odin's in Devonshire Street, Marylebone, turning it from an unremarkable London café into a fashionable bistro where such words as escargots, meunière and Richlieu (sic) jostled Irish peasant food, and the walls were hung with pictures. These he took from such eximious painters as Hockney, Procktor and Kitaj in exchange for food, and there can be no doubt that though these bargains restricted his cash-flow at the time, he got far the better part of the bargain, not only as investments, but in that their painters' frequent presence in the little restaurant with their wives and friends and catamites attracted other diners - his tables were never empty. Far more paintings came from the scruffy shop next door, The Fine Art Gallery, run by Nicholas Vilag, an engaging Hungarian rogue, where wretched imitators of Monet and Sisley rubbed shoulders with those of Wilson Steer and Augustus John, and all the signatures were false, copied from a lexicon by a leading member of the Croydon School of Art. Eventually, even Peter's untutored eye could see that something was amiss with them and it was then, after an encounter in the gallery, that he turned to me.
Peter at that time had no money, but in the Sixties he hardly needed it, for paintings were then plentiful and cheap. I taught him not to be oppressed by the red velvet pomp and splendour of Bond Street dealers, weaned him onto the London auction houses and demonstrated the virtues of the then infant market in earlier 20th century British art, showing him Sickert, Gilman, Gore and their contemporaries, in whom a number of London dealers were already moderately interested, and the even more tempting field (in terms of price) of paintings that were in some sense off-beat in a painter's work, or good examples by painters out of fashion. Of the former, Peter's purchase from Agnew's in 1972 of Harold Gilman's Negro Gardener (perhaps the only finished record of his visit to the United States in 1905) is a daring example, and of the latter, subsequent exhibitions that have included works by Henry Tonks, Mark Gertler, John Lavery, Adrian Stokes and Alfred East have proved the point.
The more Peter saw, the more he wanted, his taste extending to reflect his experience. "There are many art dealers," he wrote in his child's guide to buying pictures(editors commissioned all sorts of articles from him, not only on wine and food, but on the art market and classic cars - though he could really see no difference between the coachbuilt Bentley and the Citroën Deux Chevaux, the only cars he ever owned), "I only use one dealer, The Fine Art Society in Bond Street, opposite Sotheby's. They know their job....." They did indeed - they seduced him with the paintings of Gluck and Arthur Melville, both expensive and acquired tates, whose finest paintings he was later, in a crisis, forced to sell. Was it taste that drove him to buy a life-size illustration of Faust by Richard Westall (lot 117), the acreage of the canvas, or the fact that much of it is occupied by the young witch, Lilith, all but naked and full-frontal? Slightly ludicrous, this Westall is nevertheless an art historian's picture, a document of response to a new English translation in 1823 of Goethe's masterpiece and to Delacroix's illustrations of 1828, to Fuseli, Canova, Titian and antiquity. The paiter himself is forgotten, obliterated by the new wave of Constable and Turner, Wilkie and Lawrence, yet this example of his work is important enough to be in the Tate Gallery, where there is nothing of the kind. Considering how lust for women dominated Peter's life, it is perhaps surprising that his taste in pictures of them was so decorous - his only other female nude was a poor thing, an anonymous canvas of 1900 or so, titillatingly full-frontal, that he screwed to the ceiling of the men's loo in the bistro, the frequent victim of crude graffiti that could only be applied by a tall man standing on the pan itself.
The opening next door, in 1973, of the second, much larger and grander Odin's, a fully-fledged restaurant far more formal than the bistro demanded many more pictures and there was a flurry of purchases, particularly of large canvases, among them the Westall and the largest painting ever executed by Laura Knight, but Peter, seeking intimacy for the smaller tables, also demanded smaller paintings. I introduced him to Eliot Hodgkin, an old friend, from whom he bought four small still lifes of fruit, vegetables and flowers (lot 19-23). Quiet, serious and profoundly honest in all his responses, Eliot afterwards said that he found it difficult to believe that anyone so boorish could understand or appreciate his work - or any paintings, for that matter - and asked that I should not again bring Peter to the house; I could never persuade him to eat in Odin's, and when he and Peter met in my house over dinner, Eliot said, by no means sotto voce, 'I knew I should have asked who else was coming'.
I am uncertain that Peter, after two troubled years of digging new drains, installing ventilation shafts and bowing to the conflicting commands of every possible planning and licensing authority, sufficient payment for which was never generated by Odin's I, cared much for Odin's II. As far as paintings were concerned, he achieved perfectly the Langan Look of an eclectic accumulation over many years, the choice idiosyncratic, even whimsical, but the clientele that the restaurant attracted he damned as 'weekend wankers' and, leaving it to run itself (which it did very well), he moved on and in 1976 converted the exhausted and distinctly mephitic Coq d'Or in Stratton Street into Langan's Brasserie. As he had too little money to buy the many pictures required to give it family resemblance to Odin's II, I lent him oddments by Duncan Grant and other Bloomsbury painters, by Orpen, Sickert, Algernon Newton and Philip Naviasky that more or less conformed to his pattern of collecting; these he replaced and returned over a period of years, though one or two went astray - as is always the way of borrowed things.
Apart from very modest purchases of new work by two young painters, Guy Gladwell and José Castro Maia (a Portuguese student at the Royal College of Art, none of whose paintings survive in the current inventory), Peter's only serious immediate acquisition was London, a colossal fantasy view of St. Paul's from an oddly elegant South Bank, by Gerald Moira, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1910, heaped with praise by the critics of the day, of whom one opined it to be "very near to greatness"; some four metres by three, it was a perfect furnishing for the imposing staircase. Moira, Professor of Mural Painting at the Royal College for 22 years is even more neglected than Westall, his major mural works in the Central Criminal Court, Lloyds, the Trocadero and half a dozen ocean liners, destroyed or difficult of access, Tate Britain representing him with a wretched watercolour rightly never on display; as an imposing example of jubilant academic Edwardian painting, his London should be, if not in the Tate, in another major London gallery (lot 126).
The ground floor of the Brasserie, opened in September 1976, was an immediate success, but Peter could not, at first, decide what to do with the oddly unwelcoming upper room, and for three years it lay dormant, retaining the old stale stinks of the Coq d'Or. Then he decided that Patrick Procktor, close friend for more than a decade, should paint murals of Venice on its walls - not the high summer Venice of the 18th century Grand Tourist, but a Lenten Venice, a February Filldyke Venice, shrouded and glaucous. Patrick was the perfect painter for a Venice misty and mysterious, but he preferred cool clarity and did not give Peter what he wanted; with coats of varnish the colour of tobacco that muted Patrick's vision, vandalism was Peter's furious response. Their long friendship did not survive what Patrick called Peter's 'buggering up'.
Peter learned to be, for the most part, a careful buyer, perhaps less careful in Bond Street than with the lesser dealers from whom he bought his bargains. Well before auctions he determined his bids and rarely went beyond them unless on the wrong foot; only twice, as far as I know, did he break this rule, the first when, convinced that he had placed a winning bet on a horse, he bought a pair of beach scenes by John Noble (lot 57 & 58) for the then absurdly high sum of £1,240 (the horse came second), the second when, at Sotheby's and profoundly drunk, he paid a bankrupting £40,000 for a ruined 16th century Italian portrait, on both occasions for no better reasons than that he did not wish to be seen publicly outbid. I discovered later that there were no other bidders for the portrait (he was bidding against a preposterous reserve) and Sotheby's were as surprised as he - but they made him pay and for the next restaurant, a forgotten failure, his purse worse than empty, he was reduced to framing exhibition posters flamboyantly signed by himself.
Now that his pictures are for sale I wonder how much his ownership is worth in terms of provenance; nostalgia may play a part for those of my generation who knew Peter and his restaurants well, but in half a century will anyone care that these paintings once belonged to him and hung in one of his renowned establishments for the brief pleasure of celebrities and weekend wankers? Perhaps they will: Peter may well survive on his own account as one of the more outrageous figures of the Eighties, a wild Bohemian in Thatcher's decade of middle-class provincial politics, and he will certainly survive as an attachment to David Hockney, playing his part as patron and friend in every honest biography of the painter and every catalogue raisonné of his work - though to me the friendship always seemed one-sided, passionately loyal on Peter's side, but calculated on Hockney's and, in the end, discarded. It is from Hockney's portraits, drawn and painted over two decades or so, that posterity will know Peter's physical looks, but not his soul, and his portrayal of him in 1984 (still in the painter's possession) was a dreadful mocking dismemberment (literally so, painted on eight separate small canvases) of a man who had long been his devoted friend and of whom he had earlier drawn uncaricatural truths of exquisite reality.
Perhaps Peter has the last laugh - nothing he bought is worth as much as the paintings and drawings accepted in exchange for food and the famous Glyndebourne picnic/banquet to celebrate Hockney's sets and costumes for The Rake's Progress in 1975: for how many centuries would Hockney have to eat Steak Langan and Colcannon Potato to equal their value now?'
Brian Sewell, October 2012.